Fire experts are warning that colder weather can sometimes result in an increased likelihood of fire safety issues.
According to Fort St. John Fire Chief Fred Burrows, a drop in temperature during the winter can mean an increase of potential heating related hazards.
“As things chill down, they [people] start to put into place other heating devices in their homes and there’s a lot of good heating units on the markets but they’re all designed to be run off of the actually outlet itself on your wall. They’re not really designed to be run from powerbars and extension cords and other things that people tend to hook up to utilize these devices,” he said.
In order to make sure that people are using these items correctly, Burrows suggests checking where the device is plugged in.
“Make sure if you are using an external heating source that you do have it plugged into an appropriate outlet and that you aren’t using some type of a power bar or multi plug device to run your heater and a couple other things at the same time. It overloads the system,” he explained.
It is also important to ensure that vehicles are heated properly.
“We always seem to have a few vehicle fires related to either heaters that are put into vehicles to keep them warm or poor extension cord use for block heaters or just the block heaters aren’t well maintained.”
While cold temperatures mean that keeping a vehicle warm is important, there are some tips to doing so safely that people should be aware of.
“If your block heater plug has been exposed to weather and it’s starting to look at little shaggy, it would probably be worthwhile to have a certified auto mechanic to test it and ensure that it’s going to work properly. Make sure that the cord that you’re using is a proper cord made to be used for exterior use,” explained Burrows.
If there is a problem, he warned that it is important that people not to try and fix the problem themselves.
“It’s not uncommon to see plugs that have worn off or been damaged and then somebody cuts the wire and installs their own plug. Always have a mechanic or an auto electric person look at,” said Burrows.
It is also important to ensure that the cords are properly maintained and stored.
“You can buy in car heaters that plug into your outlets outside your house and what happens with them is… a lot of people just let the cords hang out the doors and what happens is eventually, the cord start to get damaged from people closing the door on the cord in the evenings and once you start crushing the cord and damage the two or three layers of wire inside the cord,” said Burrows.
If this happens, it can cause shorts in the wires and other problems that could potentially start a fire.
One of the potential safety hazards are those Christmas trees that may have not made their way out of the house just yet, according to Dawson Creek Fire Chief Shorty Smith.
“The real tree that you might have in your house is probably coming to its life end, so to speak,” said Smith.
“They’re starting to dry up so if they’re not keeping them watered, they need to get them out of the house as soon as they can.”
He added that this is also a good time of year to check that household appliances are working safely.
“Make sure that your furnace and you hot water take are working properly and venting properly,” explained Smith.
However, as the temperature drops, people often spend less time outside and more time inside their houses trying to keep warm.
While sitting around the fire may be a comforting winter tradition, Smith warned that it has to be done thoughtfully.
“Clean the stove, clean the chimney and when you do clean the stove make sure that you put the ashes outside away from the house in a fire resistance container,” said Smith.
“Over the years, I’ve been to house fires where people have put the ashes in a paper bag and the just set it on the back deck. Those ashes can hold residual heat overnight or days it doesn’t matter how cold it is. Pretty soon, they catch on fire.”
Burrows also had some fireplace safety tips.
“One thing people should be aware of is be careful when you buy those chimney cleaning logs.”
According to Burrows, those logs can be dangerous and actually cause fires.
“More often than [not] we end up going to chimney fires after people have used these chemical logs to so called clean their chimney. Really, there’s nothing that can beat an old fashioned chimney sweep guy that actually comes around and actually cleans your chimney or a person that has to tools to clean a chimney,” he said.
When someone doesn’t clear their chimney properly, the result can be disastrous.
“Creosote … builds up around the top of the chimney because the farther the smoke is away from the fire, the colder it gets. As it cools, the by products of combustion deposit on the flue liner and eventually they’ll be a build up and you can get a fire near the top or around the top of the chimney,” noted Burrows.
The older the house, the more important it is to ensure that your chimney is well maintained.
“The dangers of a chimney fire is that if your home is older or the flue’s been well used, it may have cracks or breaks in the mortar or may have cracks or breaks in the chimney flue itself which can result in fire getting outside the chimney flue and it could start a fire in your attic space or somewhere else on the path to the roof,” said Burrows.
Both men agreed that with due diligence, people can have a warm and safe winter.